Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The great living Chola temples

About a week back, we made an awesome surprise (all planned by S) visit to Swamimalai, a quaint temple village located near the temple-town of Kumbakonam. The entire area is located in the very fertile Cauvery delta region and thus is generously dotted with lush fields and abundant greenery.
Green paddy fields
The area also has several other towns which are places of historical significance. The Chola dynasty (more than a 1000 years ago) reigned in this area. The Cholas, those avid lovers of art and culture, showcased their sculptural and architectural skills in a number of temples constructed throughout the region.

Of these temples, three of them, the Brihadeshwara temple, the Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple and the Darasuram temple are marked as UNESCO heritage sites. In the case of the last of the aforementioned temples, this was huge stroke of luck - it is quite possible that the beauty of the temple would have been left to crumble into ruins otherwise.

Brief historical aside: The three temples above were built by Raja Raja Chola I, his son Rajendra Chola and his grandson, Raja Raja Chola II. All three temples have similar styles of architecture.

I have visited Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple once before during childhood. All I could remember was I loved walking through the temple compound and the green lawn. So, this time around I was quite thrilled to visit it again. The temple was still as beautiful as I remembered it to be. We took plenty of pictures and tried to decipher the sculptures and carvings as best as we could. In retrospect, we should have hired a guide here too (see below).
Views of the Gangai konda cholapuram temple.*

At Darasuram, thanks to my sister's suggestion, we hired a guide. Our mouths fell open as he showed us the amount of detailing that had gone into every pillar, every window, every ceiling and every wall of the temple. Each pillar showcased a different story or a different scene. Miniature sculptures too stayed true to intricate detailing. We could see for ourselves that what the guide had said in his intro was absolutely true: Darasuram truly was a temple built to celebrate beauty!
Darasuram temple up close.*
As we walked around the temple, I swelled with pride. After all, isn't it wonderful to know your ancestors were purveyors of such talent and beauty! I wished I could close my eyes and go back a 1000 years to the time the temple was built...

Staying true to the spirit of the trip, we were lucky to stay in a resort which was actually a renovated agraharam. The resort maintained its antique-rustic ambiance throughout its property which was totally delightful.
The agraharam turned resort.*
My only regret was that we did not have time to visit the Brihadeshwara temple. Next time, for sure!

But, as a lovely way to relive the trip, I picked up the English translation of Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, a book I have wanted to read for a very long time (my mom and aunts have raved about it for as long as I can remember). I am told that this book is a part-fictional/part-historic account of the life of Raja Raja Cholan (the builder of the aforementioned Brihadeshwara temple). Mom and Dad had pointed out several historical places on our way back from Swamimalai and now as I read the book, I grin everytime a place I saw is mentioned!

Anytime you make a trip to Tamilnadu, earmark a couple of these days for these marvels of Chola architecture!

* Click on the collages to enlarge.


The Kid said...

very nice post.

I think someone wrote about the ponniyin selvan in zeole chennai.

SK said...

Oohhhh super awesome!! :--) Brihadheeshwar Temple is in Tanjore, my mom's place, its totally awesome. Ponniyin Selvan is awesome! Do review it when you are done :--)
Btw, reading in English or Tamil? :--D

Too many awesomes in one comment. :--)

Anita said...

Ah, relieved my trip all over again..

Right after my trip to the three temples, I resolved to read Ponniyin Selvan in Tamil no less. Obviously that remains a distant dream.

Serendipity said...

:) such a coincidence.Alty and I did the "Chola trail" last december inspired by Ponniyin Selvan too.We did GKC-Darasuram-Tanjore.The freshest of airs and the greenest of the greens.. :)

Archana said...

Pratap - am not able to find the post on Zeole...

SK - your mom too from that side :-)? My mom too from kumbakonam side - orey the nostalgia when we were there! Ponniyin Selvan only in English - in Tamil probably I will be done after 3 years or so of continuous reading :-(. But seriously, I am going to give reading it in Tamil a shot once I am done with the English version!

Sindu - I have finished reading part 1. Some of the descriptions are so beautiful - I really think this book ought to be read in Tamil though the translation is not bad.

Seren - I did recall the FB snaps (and also the "chola trail" phrase) of you and alty when I got to know what the destination was :-)!

Reflections said...

Now I am inrigued, lived in Chennai for quiet sometime but never visited these locations.
I have read Ponniyin Selvan in Thamizh, it is so cool. BTW, the book is more about Vandiya Devan than Arun Mozhi Varma ( Raja Raja Chozhan).

Even now I have no idea regarding the locations. If we stay in Kumbakonam, will we able to visit all these locations?
Also, can you please send me the link of the resort?
Need to plan a trip when I am in Chennai.

Anita - Incase you are interested in reading in Thamizh, please check this out- http://www.envazhi.com/?cat=8557&paged=4, the blogger has been posting the chapters in sequence.

Archana said...

Reflection - This is the link to the resort: http://www.indecohotels.com/swamimalai.html . It is located right in Swamimalai, which is about 5km from Kumbakonam.

Yes, all three of the living Chola temples are located within a 70km radius of Kumbakonam and can be visited as day-trips from Kumbakonam/Swamimalai. But make sure that you inquire about the routes before you go - there is some construction work going on which probably will require a circuitous route to Gangai Konda Cholapuram from Kumbakonam/Swamimalai currently. Do make the trip, it is well worth it!

Now that I have read part 1 of Ponniyin Selvan, I realize that Arun Mozhi Varmar is yet to make a proper appearance while Vandiyathevan has been dominating the pages :-).

Hai Baji said...
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